Blasting off with double barrel badassness, Evil Dead: the Musical is something that I’ve long wanted to see and finally had the opportunity this year. Presented in San Jose, the shlock-fueled madness of Sam Raimi’s cult classic is given a great spin as every cheesy moment is embraced whole heartedly by a game cast led by it’s stalwart champion, Ashley J Williams (Matty Gregg).
When I say “led”, I absolutely chose that word especially. Gregg captures Bruce Campbells iconic mannerisms beautifully and easily adapts to the rowdy audience and the very nature of live performance with comfortable ease and charisma. He never second-guesses his choices and walks with the full bluster and bravado that Ash needs in order to keep the show moving and keep the audience involved. He’s a natural, with a cocky grin all his own and a playfulness that shows from the opening moments of the performance and throughout.
Followed to that mysterious Cabin in the Woods are Ash’s best friend, Scotty (Edie Flores), his girlfriend, Linda (Lindsay Sporleder), his sister, Cheryl (Shannon Alane Harger), and some skank that Scotty picked up in the bar, Shelly (Zanna Wei). The five teens are on vacation and have decided the perfect spring break would be to break into an isolated cabin where no one knows they are. Oh, also they find a mysterious book, eerie dagger, ancient tome bound in human flesh, and a tape recording that phonetically recites the ancient passages that supposedly summon the evil to this world. Perfect!
Familiar story from there on out- boy expresses love for girl, another boy gets down and dirty with his girl, while the prudish sister is lured into the woods where she’s assaulted by several trees that ultimately possess her and various others in the group. Ash is quickly left on his own, which is when Zanna Wei returns in a dual role as “Annie”, the daughter of the man who owns the cabin and recites the book. She’s accompanied by her fiancée, Ed (Oklys Pimental) and erstwhile, reliable, and dependable local yokel, Jake (Ray D’Ambrosio). Hilarity ensues.
EVERYONE in the cast stands out in each of their respective roles. The vocals throughout their songs are strong, supported by strong character work and a live band that lays hidden behind the setting wall. (more on that, later) Regular readers know that I try to highlight a few performances throughout my thoughts, but the truth is that every single cast member were at the absolute top of their game in their performances. Cheryl was beautifully vulgar and carried through with some groanworthy puns.. Scotty was callous and later led the crew through a phenomenal Necronomicon Dance (“Just like the Timewarp, only BETTER!”). Zanna Wei carried two performances, one as a ditzy tramp (It’s in the script, don’t get offended) and the other as a long suffering student of the occult whose life has been marred by experiences with the Zandarian Demons. Linda kicks the romance into overdrive and adds depth to Ash’s torture at the hands of the deadites, especially when the horror erupts and she very nearly screams her head off. Jake is completely lovable as the redneck rascal. And, of course, Ed’s delivery is engaging, beautifully spoken, and compelling each and every time he has something to say. He is, quite possibly, the lynch pin that holds the entire story together. So it’s in the audiences’ best interest to pay special attention each and every time he speaks.
And if you think that’s all there is, I have some weird news for you. Chants for both “tree’s” (Tyler Pardini / Daniel Lerma) would rise up throughout the whole of the evening, demanding repeat arrivals from those two throughout the show. Each carried through with other special moments throughout the show, including a singing moose and a …. Well, I’ll leave that as a surprise.
Now, regarding that “more” and considering it is now “later”- the set was an interesting technological achievement as they chose to immerse the audience in a video model of the set, a large screen wall and floor played host to the plays action. The cast were zoomed through the wilderness with beautiful 3-D computer graphics, the cabin twisting to display different angles and moving Cheryl’s cellar door prison throughout the show. The cast bursts through doors to the outside, falls, and their blood splatters back against the wall during key scenes. It worked far better than I would have thought, being a big fan of practical sets and effects myself. But I’m always willing to embrace the different, and this succeeded in their mission to bring a fully immersive “Movie Musical” to life.
But with all the good, I’d be less than honest if I didn’t mention there were some technical problems with some of their practical effects. At times a little unwieldy, the cast wore blood packs that occasionally malfunctioned at various points and there were a few sound effects that didn’t quite hit their cue. Played (often brilliantly) to comedic affect by the actors on stage, the malfunctions were actually somewhat endearing and are more than forgivable. I actually think it’s one of the reasons to really love and enjoy a live theater environment, to see what happens when theater isn’t entirely scrubbed to flawless perfection and is allowed to live on a dangerous edge that welcomes the audience to embrace these experiences.
10 out of 10, and a fervent wish it were a longer run. The show runs through November 8th, in San Jose. Check local listings for theater location.